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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 2:01 pm
by JustSarah
Actually for that matter, what is considered to many characters on a book by book basis? Does it depend on the size of the book?

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 3:52 pm
by afamiliarletter
Well, good point. :? I'm not sure. I guess I meant for my particular story, this fear of having a jumble of characters. I suppose it's a subjective response, to feel as an author or a reader that a story has too many characters.

Certainly, if I introduced a new major character every other scene then I would feel that's too many. I'm sure others will be much more insightful than me on this topic.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 4:17 pm
by JustSarah
Well like when my book is finally finished, its supposed to be around 142,000 words. But each story might have a separate cast of 7 or so characters. (That would make around 56 main characters.)

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 4:57 pm
by afamiliarletter
I'm shooting for 90,000 words, and one storyline with most scenes featuring the single protagonist. So I'm sure your story can handle many more main characters than mine.


After a quick google I found a helpful article/video by the great K. M. Weiland. Here's what she says:
It would be nice if I could tell you every book should have twenty-seven characters, no more, no less. But, of course, that’s not the way it works. Every author has to make decisions about the number of characters needed for his story. But, in making that decision, it’s important you understand why too many characters can be a bad thing. Real quick, let’s go over just a couple of the problems of too many characters. To begin with, we have the simple fact of reader confusion, which we’ve talked about quite a bit in recent posts. The more characters you have, the more likely readers will forget who’s who and get confused. Likewise, the more characters you have, the less likely you’ll be able to appropriately flesh them all out. Then there’s all the issue of fragmenting your plot. If you try to juggle your plot, subplots, and themes among too many characters, you can end up stretching all three way too thin.

So take a look at your cast of characters and evaluate the purpose of each person in your story. How many of these characters are going play a part in the climax? And, conversely, how many are going to end up as loose ends to be tied off? With that in mind, are there any characters you can combine? Maybe the wise uncle and the cop next door could be the same person. There’s also the painful matter of realizing some characters serve no useful purpose and should be deleted altogether for the good of the book. Lush casts are fun for both authors and readers, but the more streamlined your cast, the tighter and more powerful your story is likely to be.
Here's the link to the above post: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors. ... -many.html

I think she articulates what I was trying to say: that we have to weigh the worth of each character individually according to the needs of the story. This explains the wild variation in character counts from novel to novel. What do you think?

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 8:13 pm
by JustSarah
Per 11,500 words, would 7 characters be considered to many? That might make 28 characters all around, but 7 main characters. I'm sort of in the profile writing part at this point, its sometimes hard writing a profile for more than seven characters.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 8:28 pm
by seeleyjames
You should have as many characters as you have roles that interest readers. They should all have last names and back stories, none of which should be revealed unless a specific action requires it.

Peace, Seeley

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 28th, 2012, 9:33 pm
by JustSarah
I don't know about last name, but I agree about how they should all have backstories. Uh, the question was for how many characters you should have, not whether they should have last names.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 29th, 2012, 6:56 am
by ladymarella
I feel for you Sarah. My almost finished first draft looks like it will end up at about 140,000+ words, and with five main plot strands (overlapping with subplots in each) my character count is probably around the same as yours.

I often do wonder whether it will prove too much, but I've decided just to tell the story, and leave it up to my beta readers to tell me whether it works. I've found it works best to have one or two pivotal characters for each plot strand who are at the centre of the action

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 29th, 2012, 11:30 am
by dios4vida
JustSarah wrote:Per 11,500 words, would 7 characters be considered to many?
That's not a question anyone can answer, sadly. For any given story, that many main characters may be just right. But it could be too many for a sparser, more intimate storyline like, say, a cozy mystery. Or it could be too few if you're writing an excruciatingly detailed epic fantasy, like Steven Erikson. It all depends on the story you're trying to tell, the level of detail you're wanting to go into, and a million other little factors that no one can identify.

At this point, the best thing for you to do, JustSarah, is to relax. Forget about whether this is okay, not okay, too much, too little, etc. Just write. Study some books on the craft, read read read read read, and write. There are no right or wrong answers in writing. No one can look at a plan and say "oh, this and this and this are wrong" because some people can totally do everything "wrong" and still end up with a stellar novel. So relax and just write what's in your head at the moment. Worry about things when you have reason to. :)

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 29th, 2012, 11:42 am
by Sommer Leigh
I'm going to "ditto" what Brenda said. I think you can drive yourself crazy worrying about the tiny details up front. It's impossible to know if you've used too many characters or not enough or if your book is too long or too short or if you've used too many adverbs or not the right ones an argh. It'll drive you bonkers while you're writing if you worry a lot about this stuff.

That being said, it's good to collect information on the trends of your genre/audience and keep them at the back of your head while you write. If you know the genre you write in doesn't support books that are over 100,000 words, know that you might have to do some serious editing when you're all done. If the agents that deal in your genre are talking about editors not buying vampire romances right now, know that when you dive in because you either A) need to avoid that trope or B) work very very hard at making that trope as unique and fresh as what's already been written (for exmaple of course.) It's good to keep yourself informed and know what works, but also don't get bogged down in the beginning by trying to fit all those pieces.

Whenever I am unsure about something I'm doing in my story, I go to the other books like it that would be sold right along side it in the book store and read their stories and figure out what's working for readers and what isn't. I don't mean play to what others are doing or try to recreate what they've done, I mean see what readers are loving about those stories. That says more about the market for your book than any piece of writing advice.

I know in my gut that my cast is probably 3 or 4 characters too large and that I'm going to have to do some honest cutting when I'm all done. I've got an idea to combine a couple of characters, and I know that's something I'll have to visit when I'm all done with my current draft, but I'm not going to let it stress me right now.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 29th, 2012, 2:29 pm
by Cookie
In my current wip, a lot.

3 main
2 antagonists
15-20 supporting characters
Probably another 20 or so named characters

However, my story spans 30 years and a world war.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 30th, 2012, 2:16 pm
by Nicole R
I usually have pretty large character casts (I actually haven't counted, but now I'm curious). I think you can get away with it more in fantasy, because readers are used to lots of background characters weaving in and out of the plot to interact with your primary and secondary cast. As a reader, I actually love books that have lots of characters. So long as the author keeps my interest in each of the individual characters' stories, I'll keep reading!

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: October 31st, 2012, 9:56 am
by writersink
Mine's a MG :)

1 main character
2 sidekicks
And then about 7 other named characters. I'd probably lose track if I had too many, and start calling Bob Bert or something

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: November 7th, 2012, 4:29 pm
by bcomet
In my current WIP:

1 main character told two ways.

4 supporting characters with woven subplot story lines.

13 minor characters, all with back stories that connect to the lead and supporting characters.


15 characters incidental to certain scenes.

33 characters total.

Re: How many Characters do you have?

Posted: November 27th, 2012, 1:21 am
by LurkingVirologist
Interesting to read all the responses here.

My WiP is contemporary/UF/paranormal-ish and I'm aiming to cut to around 115K or so.

3 Main PoV characters (roughly equal time given to each)
4 Secondary PoV characters (2-3 scenes each, mostly antagonists)
5ish Non-PoV supporting characters of note (each shows up many times throughout the story)
A mish-mash of tertiary characters (most appear in only 1 or 2 scenes and have minimal back story)

I had to put a lot of time and energy into developing the main PoV characters' individual voices before I really got going, but I'm kind of hooked on multi-threading plots now.